He switched off the TV and turned to his wife. “Alice,” he began.
“It’s Alicia,” she said.
“Really? Did you change your first name?”
“No, but I’m thinking of changing the last one. Go on.”
“I think it’s time that we and our three children. …
“… sat down as a family to figure out how we’re going to persevere through this crisis.”
“I mean, are we actually going to have to speak with each other now that our distractions are gone?”
This is the question that gripped him Saturday while not watching Hockey Night in Canada. He had settled in front of the screen at the regular time, hoping for some blood sport alternative — Aussie Rules Football, perhaps, or a Democratic primary — but, alas, some bright spark at the CBC had decided to stick 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games figure skating re-runs where Hockey Night would usually be.
That’s like serving quinoa in place of a steak: It’s still food, but … When it comes to televised competitions, the average hockey fan rates figure skating somewhere between The Bachelor and The Great British Bake Off.
It’s not just hockey that’s on hold, of course. It’s most live sports, suspended for the duration.
And it’s not just sports, either. Theatres, cinemas, bars, restaurants, coffee shops — many of the places we go, the things that claim our attention, are off-limits for now.
Many people can’t even seek the refuge of their usual workplaces, whether that be because their jobs are in limbo or because they are now telecommuting from the couch. While it’s nice for some to have the option of the latter, it still has its limits: We all like working in our bathrobes, but it’s not as much fun when we’re barred from the office and can only do so at home.
Worse, those homes are infested with people in the same predicament — significant others at loose ends, sullen offspring whose idea of spring break hadn’t included bonus time with dad, or, as they liked to call him “that guy who drives the car.” Right now, they were looking at him with as much enthusiasm as he watched the figure skating.
Nonetheless, he plunged ahead. “Alice/Alicia,” he said, “what are we supposed to do now?”
“Well,” she replied, “let’s talk about what’s important.”
He nodded his assent. “Yes, the liquor stores are still open.”
She ignored him. “Let’s talk about self-isolation.”
Again he nodded. “I already told the oldest one to sleep in the back of the truck.”
“No,” she said. “I mean the self-isolation we live every day of the year. There’s not one of us that doesn’t go around with our face in a screen all day long.”
He couldn’t argue with that. Phones, televisions, tablets, computers — in September, an Angus Reid Institute survey showed that 22 per cent of Canadian children get more than four hours of screen time on a typical weekday.
And that’s just the children. The parents might be worse. Teachers say one of the greatest complaints they hear from students is that the children feel they come second to their parents’ phones. It’s as though whatever is on the screen is more important to them than their own kids.
This isn’t new. By 2005, Statistics Canada was already reporting a marked decline in family time over a 20-year period. And in 2005 parents’ electronic tethers didn’t leash them to the 24-hour workplace in the way they do today. People didn’t call 911 if you took more than five minutes to answer their texts.
“Maybe we should seize this as an opportunity,” she said. “Maybe with much of the rest of life on the back burner, we should take this as a time to devote to one another instead of to those things that pull us apart even when we’re in the same room. Let’s get to know each other again.”
She smiled at him the way Henrik Sedin used to smile at Daniel. This brought a tear to his eye, just like when Grapes got fired.
He turned to the nearest child. “Let’s have some fun together. Jigsaw puzzle? No, go get the Monopoly board, Max.”
“Max is the dog,” the boy replied.